Which Pencil for the John Muir Trail?

What’s Up With That?

A little satire I posted over at BackpackingLight.com.

The John Muir Trail (JMT) runs from Yosemite to Mount Whitney, a distance of 211 miles. Mile for mile, it is one of the most beautiful hikes in the US; and as you would expect, it is very crowded in the summer. I first hiked most of the JMT in 1971. At the time I had never heard of it, and hiking from Kernville to Mount Whitney I found the trail on my map. I almost made it all the way to Yosemite, but descending from  Tuolumne Meadows I was put off by the crowds on the trail; turned around and hiked back to Kernville.

I didn’t plan this trip, just packed my gear and headed out for a few months. Today I am amused by the number of people posting on the Internet asking for help in planning their JMT hike. People asking what they should eat, what they should wear, what kind of a shelter they need or do they need a shelter, what sleeping system, what rain gear, how should they purify water, etc., etc., etc., not to mention all the “what if” questions.

So here is my post…

It was pretty easy for me to put together a gear list, but I am struggling with a pencil solution.

My first thought was to use the little pencils you get at the golf course to keep score. I can’t find these small pencils in a store. Would it be appropriate to ask the golf course if I could keep one? Would it be a moral issue if I kept one without asking, since the golf course here charges over $200 for green fees?

If these are too short, perhaps I could cut down one of the standard long pencils that are sold in stationary stores? Is this dangerous? They are called “lead” pencils, so do they contain hazardous materials? What should I cut them with? Wood or metal saw — or something else? Will I need specialize breathing equipment to protect my respiratory system?

How long should a pencil last (inch per miles)? Will I need something longer than the golf course pencil?

Would you suggest just using a long standard pencil? The eraser would come in handy.

Has anyone used a pencil as a tent stake? I could leave one of my tent stakes at home and use the pencil I could save 0.25 ounces. How would you handle writing if your pencil is in the ground?

Will the pencil attract bears, mountain lions or marmots? Should I store it in a bear canister at night?

Do pencils off-gas dangerous fumes? Anything I should be looking for?

What is the best way to carry a pencil? In my backpack or in my shirt pocket, or some other method? I am concerned about carrying a pointed pencil in my shirt pocket… I could fall and the point might pierce my heart. Maybe a pocket protector? How about some sort of clip to keep it secure in my shirt pocket?

How about a mechanical pencil? I could carry extra lead and erasers. But it would weigh more than a regular pencil. What maintenance should I expect to do with a mechanical pencil?

Actually a mechanical pencil might be lighter, because I cannot sharpen a pencil with just a razor blade. I would need to carry a knife. With a knife I could cut off my finger sharpening the pencil, so perhaps I need a FAK that could allow me to attach a severed finger? Or should I buy a SPOT device instead?

Which is the best brand of pencils? I am looking for an environmentally responsible company. Should I buy American? I don’t want to negatively impact the US balance of trade or put an American worker out of a job.

Would it be better to use one of those Kevin Spacey Pens instead? Do they work when it is raining or in sub-freezing temperatures?

Once I resolve the pencil conundrum, I might need advice on paper. My thought is to purchase every one of the USGS Topo Maps for the JMT. This way I could write on the back of the maps – multi-purpose, you know. Or should I just buy a Tom Harrison map? They are water proof; can your write on them with a pencil or a pen? How much room is there in the margins to write? Is there enough room for a daily journal? Will I be breaking any copyright laws by writing on the map?

If writing on a map isn’t acceptable, should I buy a notebook or something else? How about those small waterproof notebooks? Or should I stick with a linen paper? Is linen paper made from cotton? If it is, then no trees will be injured in the manufacture – correct?

Finally, is it possible to thru hike the JMT without a pencil and paper? I prefer not to take any electronic items.

: – )

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